Fitness editor Jen Sinkler asks the experts about working out tired, getting faster, belly-button pop-outs and working out with multiple sclerosis.
Q1: Working Out Tired
Q: I’m often exhausted when I get home from work. Is it better to work out tired or recuperate and try again the next day?
A: We’ve all been there at the tail end of a workday, when a workout holds markedly less appeal than a little couch time. Finding the will to move, however — even a little bit — might be just what’s needed to recharge your batteries. “The human body is an awesome machine. The more energy you use, the more you have,” says Jason C. Brown, founder of Pathfinder Method, a play-oriented physical education organization based in Philadelphia. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a killer workout session. In my experience, telling people they have to hit the gym leads to resentment and eventual dropout.”
If you’re feeling beat, Brown suggests doing something small, such as going for a walk, enjoying a bike ride, playing Frisbee or taking a leisurely swim. “Just like little drops of water can wear away stone, small movement sessions can improve your energy,” he says.
It could also be that intense activity at night isn’t a good fit for you. The best time to train is when you will do it, so consider working out before tackling the day, and save your evenings for the sorts of scaled-down activities Brown equates with rejuvenation.
Q2: Running Drills
Q: What are the best running drills to build speed?
A: “I don’t think running drills are the most important component of speed training,” says Tom Shaw, a renowned speed coach for the NFL. “You need to work on your explosive power through jumping and bounding in order to gain stride length. If you can gain more ground with every step, you’ll be faster.” Shaw, who notes that fast elbows are key to increasing stride rate, says cleaning up a runner’s technique can also help squeeze out one last burst of speed.
The following exercise trains your limbs to travel in an optimal path and range of motion. “Acceleration wall drills are one of the best, most overlooked drills,” says Loren Landow, CSCS, USAW, director of performance enhancement for Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Denver. “They ingrain good running technique, improve strength and stability, and teach your central nervous system to fire faster.”
To get into the start position, place your hands against a wall, arms straight and body at a 65- to 70-degree angle to the floor, aligned from ear to ankle. Brace through your core and pull your shoulder blades together slightly. Quickly punch one knee upward and forward until the heel is approximately midthigh height. It’s important to keep your toes pulled upward in a dorsiflexed position. Without altering body position, switch legs as fast as possible. As you become more skilled, you can practice driving more force into the ground as you switch legs, and you can pick up your pace. But, says Landow, never sacrifice technique for speed.
Q3: Belly Button Pop-Out
Q: Since I started lifting weights, my belly button has gone from an innie to an outie, and it’s tender to the touch. Is this a common occurrence?
A: “It sounds like you’ve got an umbilical hernia,” says Ron Hekier, MD, a general surgeon in Texarkana, Texas. A hernia is a weakness in the wall of the abdomen that allows contents from the body cavity, such as a loop of bowel, to push through and cause a bulge. Hernias can occur in several locations, but umbilical hernias are relatively common, especially among patients who are overweight or have just given birth, explains Hekier, who has extensive experience in abdominal surgery. In many cases, a person with the belly-button blues has had a small hernia his or her entire life that has gone unnoticed.
Lifting weights can contribute to the protrusion, since it could cause an increase in intra-abdominal pressure that will push against an umbilical hernia defect, causing it to enlarge over time. In some cases, the variations in layers of tissue thickness simply make some people more susceptible.
Given that your hernia is tender to the touch, Hekier recommends a consultation with a surgeon. Especially since the problem won’t resolve itself on its own and may cause future complications (such as part of the intestine getting stuck in an out position).
The surgery is fairly straightforward and you’ll go home the same day, says Hekier. To reduce the chance of recurrence, most surgeons will ask their patients not to lift anything heavier than 20 or 30 pounds for the first two or three weeks after surgery and to refrain from truly heavy lifting for four to six weeks.
Fitness Fix: Working Out With MS
Finding a way to work out with multiple sclerosis can be difficult, but following a few guidelines often makes exercise easier and helps manage the disease.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an often-debilitating autoimmune disease caused by the body’s immune system attacking the protective coating of nerve cells, called myelin. Symptoms can range from numbness to paralysis, making exercise a difficult task. “For many with MS, fatigue is going to be a big issue. Often, people do too much and are then completely exhausted. To that end, start with a very small amount [of exercise] every day and gradually increase,” says Terry Wahls, MD, author of Minding My Mitochondria: Second Edition (TZ Press, 2010) and professor of medicine at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. “Another factor is core body temperature. Higher temps decrease neurological function and tolerance for exercise.”
The struggle is worth it. Regular exercise produces more mitochondria, Wahls explains, which means muscle cells will function more efficiently and improve biological processes.
Wahls, a former tae kwon do champion who’s had remarkable success treating her own MS with nutrition and exercise, offers the following suggestions. For more about her methods, see her TED Talk and visit www.terrywahls.com.
- Work out in a cool environment. Try swimming in a cool pool. If you’re lifting weights, take longer breaks between sets or keep the intensity down.
- Focus on stretching. Due to a misfire of electrical impulses from the brain and spinal cord, MS causes muscles to spasm, resulting in stiffness and shortness over time. Stretching increases the length of the muscle cells themselves and combats the tightening effect.
- Get stronger using resistance bands, free weights or body-weight exercises. MS causes a slow deterioration in strength and muscle mass, so the sooner you can get on a strength program, the better off you’ll be long-term. This type of strength work improves balance and coordination more effectively than machines. It may also be easier to transition between exercises.
- Lower your stress levels. Exercise programs with an aspect of mindfulness as part of the training, such as tai chi, yoga or qigong, can help lower inflammatory stress hormones such as cortisol.
- Eat to quell inflammation. People with an autoimmune problem are prone to food allergies, and their bodies are more likely to contain toxic compounds such as heavy metals. If you’re working out but still eating a diet high in white flour, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, or low in vegetables, wild fish or grass-fed meat, you’re pouring gas on your autoimmune fire. If, on the other hand, you adopt an anti-inflammatory diet, as Wahls suggests, with plenty of greens, sulfur-rich vegetables, brightly colored vegetables, grass-fed meat, organ meats and seaweed, you douse dietary triggers.
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